Encourage healthful snacking for children

May 27, 2009|By LYNN LITTLE / Special to The Herald-Mail

Snacks can provide 25 percent or more of your child's daily food consumption. Because children in the 6-to-12 age group grow two inches and gain about five pounds a year, it is important that snacks help to provide the important nutrients these growing children need.

Most children in this age group know about making healthy choices. But it is your job, as the parent, to assure that healthy choices are easily accessible.

Use these tips to help assure your children are getting the best nutrient value from their snack choices:

o To make it easier for your children to make healthy choices, create two snack bins and keep them filled with individual servings of a variety of foods. A refrigerator snack bin might contain string cheese, yogurt, cut-up vegetables with dip or fresh fruit. A snack bin in the pantry could include crackers, dried fruit, trail mix, pretzels or popcorn. This allows them to make a choice, but they are choosing from the healthful foods you provide.


o Encourage your child to choose a snack that includes at least two food groups. Examples might be cheese with crackers, peanut butter on apples, yogurt and fruit or dried fruit with milk. This helps to ensure your child is getting a wide variety of nutrients.

o Let your children help decide what goes in the snack bins. Plan a snack adventure, and involve your children in snack planning, shopping for ingredients and simple snack preparation. Together you can devise a healthy snack list that includes foods from all five food groups. ( Your children are more likely to consume the foods they have helped select.

o Let your child catch you eating foods from the snack bins. They need to see you being a good role model.

o Keep a bowl of fresh fruit on the counter. If it is visible, all family members are more likely to grab a piece. To keep fresh fruit affordable, choose fruits that are in season.

o Make sure there are healthful drink choices for your child. Water is a great choice. Low-fat or fat-free milk (plain or flavored) are also good choices because of the nutrients they contain. Offer only 100 percent fruit juice, which is full of nutrients; avoid fruit-flavored drinks which have a lot of sugar and little or no nutrient value.

Because snacks are such an important part of the diet of your school-aged child, it is important to make sure your child has healthful choices. Well-nourished children learn and perform better in school.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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